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Reunion thoughts

I thought I would post a few thoughts about Reunion weekend, which was – as always – a blast. Read more

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Five Years Out 1: “Choosing” Williams

Promoting another post to the “Reunion Top.” –93kwt

This weekend is my five year reunion. For a long time, I’ve wanted to write here a post highlighting a few of the most shining moments I remember from my days there. In one post, I could have done this: restricting myself to “moments” that can be described to people not of my inner circle and and which are purely positive would have generated a short enough list.

But as I sketched it out, I found there was more I wanted to write about. I wish I could have kept it simple, but I’m probably incapable of this. I want to give you an idea of what was important to me, and how I connected to the campus community. And I want it to include some of the good and the bad, as well as the hard and the incidental. I want to tell a story, but remind myself that I did not live four years as a story, or see a “point” or even a unified flow in my life as I was going through it: though I suspected that I would look back someday and see it that way.

Five years out, this series of posts is much of how I see what I lost and gained at Williams. This is ephblog, so the segments are far from uncut or uncensored, but they are long enough to be true. They capture what is important to me looking back, and the past I want to give homage to as I think about reuniting with my class this weekend.

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Five Years Out 3: Contradance

Five years out, this series of posts is much of how I see what I lost and gained at Williams. This is ephblog, so the segments are far from uncut or uncensored, but they are long enough to be true. They capture what is important to me looking back, and the past I want to give homage to as I think about reuniting with my class this weekend.

It was the tip of my freshman year, and for me and probably much of my ‘05 classmates, there was no normalcy to even attempt to return to after the gloom of September Eleventh. The towers fell before the academic year was a week old. I think a lot of undergraduates besides me felt a certain guilt that the new threat and suffering in the world was going to be only one of many novel problems to contend with. Read more

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Reunion Thoughts: The Armor We Wore Our Freshman Year

When I first set out on my cross country drive, culminating this weekend in my 25th Reunion, I had expected that Williams would often be on my mind and I would frequently pen posts about my thought.  But, now with the first events of our reunion fewer than 48 hours away, I find I have hardly posted on this journey, the last time just after staying with Williams friends in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Now, I’m in Boston, having followed a route similar to that I first took when my Dad drove me to college for my freshman year.  Only then time, instead of heading from the New York Thruway to Route 2, I took the MassPike into Boston.  On Thursday, I’ll take Route 2 West to Billsville.

One thought which has crossed my  mind from time to time was more  a hope than a thought, the hope that when my class assembles again, they won’t remember me as I was when first we assembled as freshmen in the Fall of 1981.  But, as I noted in a previous post, “some of the sharpest memories I have are of freshman year“.  I would dare say it’s the same for many of them.

While I came to embrace many of my lifetime passions in the Purple Valley, when I first arrived I was uncertain about the propriety of expressing any of them, more concerned about fitting in than in “finding myself” (to borrow an expression which has become a cliché).  But, then I think that many of us tried to mask our own insecurities in false identities.  And we sometimes became judgmental of those not in our circle (or our entry) to cover our own anxieties.

For most of us, that judgmental attitude melted away as we became more comfortable in our own circles more confident in our talents and more aware of our own interests.  Perhaps, it was the support of a good friend or the encouragement of a professor.  Or the inspiration of a coach (or other mentor). Read more

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Five Years Out 2: Fitting

Five years out, this series of posts is much of how I see what I lost and gained at Williams. This is ephblog, so the segments are far from uncut or uncensored, but they are long enough to be true. They capture what is important to me looking back, and the past I want to give homage to as I think about reuniting with my class this weekend.

Whatever good experience I had during Previews Weekend as a prospective student considering Williams, it was only enough to make me choose Williams, not really look forward to it. Read more

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How to Break Up with William’s College

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., June 3, 2010 —

When I first met William, five years ago on a blustery April afternoon, I knew I had found something special.

“I’ve got a lot to offer,” he said, as I listened with the impressionable eagerness of an overachieving high school student, “and I can’t help noticing that you are rather well-rounded.”

Our courtship was typical: a protracted flirtation in which backgrounds were dissected and attributes appraised. I read his guidebooks, his blogs; he read my personal essay, my recommendations. He was certainly my type: preppy, athletic, a small town intellectual who liked the outdoors and was attractive in the most charmingly pastoral manner. He was financially generous, and, rumor had it, extremely well endowed.
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Williams Conversations

Shortly after I graduated from Williams, when I was studying at Albert-Ludwigs-Universität in Freiburg, Germany, I approached a professor lecturing on Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival to ask her about a concept in that epic (I believed was) similar to one in Beowulf. “Approach” may not be the best way to describe how I sought to contact this scholar. It was more like chased down. I had to rush after her at the close of the class. Unlike her peers in the Purple Valley, she did not stay after to field questions from students, leaving almost immediately after she excused us.

When I did track her down, she seemed almost stunned by my intellectual interest in the epic–and the comparison I was making (without her prompting) to another great medieval poem.

One could say that is the difference not between Williams and the university in Freiburg, but between an American and a European university.  And to be sure, I often enjoyed conversations with professors at  the various graduate institutions where I have studied on this side of the Atlantic, even dropping by to visit a law school professor when I was in Charlottesville, Virginia this past weekend.

Yet, we didn’t just have conversations with our professors at Williams.  We often had spirited exchanges, touching on the subject matter of our courses, student life at a small college and even about our career goals or the news of the day.

I was reminded of that when I related the above anecdote to Gail Henderson ’86 while visiting her in Charlotte Monday night.  And like our days at Williams, we ended up talking well into the night, sharing stories of our lives since college and discussing the various challenges we have faced over the years.   Read more

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Williams Couples

Given how much we complained how little dating there was at Williams when we were students, it’s fascinating how many of my classmates are married to each other.  And of those couples that formed while we were in the Purple Valley, it seems the better part survived long after those happy golden years.

As I drive now down the eastern seaboard, heading first south before turning north with the ultimate destination of Williamstown for my reunion, I have visited family members and friends, including two Williams couples.  I am now in Charlotte, North Carolina. staying in the home of a good friend from the Class of 1987 and her husband, also of that year.

They are now the second coupled classmates I have met on this journey, the others from 1984.  Pardon the double negative, but I had never not known the elder couple as anything but a couple.  What I didn’t know was that they waited until five years after Williams to marry.

I had just always assumed that they would.

As to the second couple (whose hospitality I now enjoy), well, I can still recall learning of their romance when she wrote me in Germany (where I was then living), telling me of this guy she met and had started dating.

Now, these couples met at Williams, but going through my reunion book, I found quite a number of couples who got together only after graduation.  Perhaps, some day, someone will study why it is that people who knew each other as Williams waited until after graduation to connect.  But, for now, I will just note the high percentage of people who started dating at Williams and ended up married.

From my experience at least, It seems almost that if the relationship survived Williams, it would survive into the real world.

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Reunion Nostalgia

I write this post from a Comfort Inn in Richfield, Utah, having completed the first leg of my cross country drive (or x-country x-cursion as I have dubbed it) so I can attend both my niece’s Bat Mitzvah in New York and three weeks later my Williams Reunion in Billsville and in the between time, visiting friends and family on the east coast while taking time to pay homage to the subject of my dissertation at her North American shrine.

And in the past few days, few weeks really, I have spent much of my time remembering Williams, with odd memories cropping up at strange moments.  Because this is a big reunion (25th), the college sent out a facsimile of our original Facebook, only replacing our dorm and high school information with our current address and professional situation.  So, I page through it, particularly at moments when I needed a break from dissertation writing (or was procrastinating that writing) and remember classmates and wonder at their current situation.  I never would have thunk he or she would end up in the UK.  Or that he would teach high school.  Or she go into finance.

And her spouse is a woman!?!?  (Cool!)  But, she and Steve (not his real name) were the most coupled people at Williams, smooching in the snack bar, holding hands in Hopkins.  Their relationship didn’t last, but it was fascinating to note how many of our classmates married other classmates.  Some relationships just made sense. Of course they’d end up together.  But, they didn’t date at Williams, did they?  (In many cases, they did not.)

And then there were people I wished I had gotten to know better or had made the effort to meet.  And those with whom I lost contact (and regretted as much).  Thanks to Facebook, I have gotten in touch with several of my classmates, learning that one man comes up with better one-liners than some people who earn their living writing such lines in Hollywood.  (Was he this witty at Williams?)

Two things to note, some of the sharpest memories I have are of freshman year (and I do hope that that is not the same for my classmates about me).  And then, there’s something a classmate said to me when after learning (via Facebook that he was in LA for a few months) we got together for lunch.  As we talked about reunion and our class; he remarked how despite the size of the school, people had so many different experiences there.  So many people loved the place–and for so many different reasons.

It is amazing the diversity at such a small college.

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JA: Junior Anonymous [Eph Diary #10]

Ch-ch-ch-changes

This week, Williamstown is in the throes of a heat wave and my Frosh are in the throes of room draw.  These two seemingly incongruous events are alike for one reason- they keep reminding me of things to come.  For one, the fact that another summer is almost here.  Also, that my Frosh are almost Sophs- my year as a JA is almost done.

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JA: Junior Anonymous [Eph Diary #9]

Judgment Day

Two Thursdays ago, the lives of 52 Williams sophomores changed forever.

One of them was sitting in my English discussion that morning, minding his own business, when his Blackberry buzzed.  Despite a class policy against cell phones, he opened the newly received e-mail and was suddenly grinning from ear-to-ear. “Hey!” he announced excitedly, “I just got JA!!”

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JA: Junior Anonymous [Eph Diary #8]

Tiny Dancer + Sherlock Homeless

My Co and I are lab partners.  In two classes.  The experience has taken our already married-couple-esque partnership to new heights, as we tackle chemical reactions with the same spirit of cooperation that we bring to the entry.  He weighs our samples; I pour the liquids.  I finish his sentences when our teacher asks us questions; he explains to our bench-mate how terrible I am with a calculator.  We talk about paying the cable bill while assembling electrical circuits, discuss entry scandals while writing up our lab reports.

We haven’t even killed each other yet. Read more

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JA: Junior Anonymous [Eph Diary #7]

Laziness

So, I’m a day late on this January post… still running on Winter Study time, I guess.  Maybe it’s just me, but Winter Study always seems to be the month that got away.  I start it out with the best intentions, with grand illusions of catching up on my reading list and updating my resume and maybe finally cleaning my room.  With only six hours of class a week, I always expect the free time to be endless.

Then, all of a sudden, it’s February 1st.  Winter Study is over, Dead Week is drawing to a close, and the “Spring” (oh hey, Real FeelTM -10o) Semester is looming ominously on the horizon.  I read 2.5 books this month, a shamefully low number for a certified bookworm like me.  I haven’t updated my resume since last spring, and will probably be scrambling to do that tonight.  I’m not currently in Williamstown, but I’m still pretty sure that my dorm room is a mess.  In other words: where did all the time go?! Read more

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JA: Junior Anonymous [Eph Diary #6]

By The Numbers

I have officially survived my first semester as a JA.  In light of that fact, I have compiled a handy summary of the past four months, a la the Williams Prospectus:

19: # of Frosh in my entry

17: # of Frosh I Facebook stalked before First Days (oops!)

1: # of Frosh adopted along the way

75%: Approximate percentage of Frosh that I feel sufficiently bonded to

100%: Approximate percentage of Frosh that I wish I felt sufficiently bonded to

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8: # of beds that I assisted in lofting on move-in day

780: Approximate caloric intake from Dunkin Donut’s Munchkins on move-in day

2 hours: Approximate time my Co and I spent shopping for men’s cargo shorts on move-in day (don’t ask)

1: # of parents I wanted to defenestrate on move-in day

.

6: # of times I have personally supervised vomiting Frosh

3 hours: Approximate time my Co and I have spent bonding in bathrooms while supervising vomiting Frosh together

2: # of hand-drawn “I’m sorry for vomiting last night” cards currently on display in my dorm room

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2: # of sleep-interrupting fire alarms in Mission this past semester

0: # of fire alarms caused by my entry (Woohoo!)

1: # of trees confiscated from my entry on the basis of fire safety violations

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$833: Entry funds spent thus far

20: # of attendees at our End-of-the-Semester Entry Dinner at Jae’s Inn

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4-1-0: Record of our Entry IM Soccer Team

9: # of cut-off sweatshirts worn on the playing field as our official uniform

1: # of championships we think we should have won

$250: Cash prize for IM Broomball Champion in January.  Bring it on.

.

5: # of entries I have personally showered in this semester, per official Entry Shower Competition rules

92.4%: percentage of entries showered in by at least one of my Frosh, per Official Entry Shower Competition rules

1: # of times I have been questioned as to why I am in a towel in the middle of Frosh Quad

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2.7%: Percent decrease in my GPA over the past semester

46/100: Score on my Organic Chemistry midterm exam

0: # of times I went to bed before 2am in the month of September

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0: # of regrets I have about all of it

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JA: Junior Anonymous [Eph Diary #5]

Comings and Goings

It was 8:43 on November 14th when I heard the first rumblings.

“Mommy!!” they yelled (because they think it’s funny to call me that), “Wake up!!!”

“GRKAMFNBLABLLHHH” came my reply.

“It’s party time!!!!” the knocking on my door persisted.  I heard Razor scooters rolling down the hallway, and knew it was no use.

“We agreed on 9!  I still have fifteen minutes!” I protested.  In that moment, I knew exactly what it was like to have small children on Christmas morning (yes, I know I need to cool it on these Christmas morning analogies.  But this one is just so apt!)  Except instead of presents under the tree, my kiddies were looking forward to tailgating in the driving rain, wearing lots and lots of purple, and beating up on Amherst. Read more

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Dinner on the Hill

William Slack ’11
1973 Paresky
Williams College

Dear Will,

Mimi and I are hosting a dinner…..

Such began the letter I received last year in my Paresky mailbox. Unlike almost every other communication at Williams, this one did not come via e-mail, though the RSVP instructions were electronic. Morty was inviting me to his formidable home on Route 2 for dinner, and I had little idea what to expect.

It wasn’t like I had never been to a dinner before. I had set the table many times at home with our best china for Christmas dinner – pulling out silverware that belonged to a great-great something and the plates that usually lurked in the dining room cabinet. When I went to Washington D.C. for the finals in a scholarship competition, the Mayflower Hotel served so many nice meals that I got a little tired of them, and desserts so gorgeous that I almost wanted to leave them untouched.

Yet, this invitation was different. President’s House dinners were something of a rumored secret on campus – at events with more major speakers, I sometimes saw a front section of reserved seats for the entourage of well attired students, faculty, and administrators coming from the Morty’s house. Jewish friends of mine spoke of celebrating Yom Kippur with Morty, and tour guiding friends had an invitation to brunch that slightly irked me – I had scheduled a meeting for the same time-slot. The invitation was also personal (he signed it) and purposeless: I was neither family nor competitor, but rather a guest.

Come the appointed day and time, I proceeded up the hill and was promptly confused about where to go – the front door had a sign indicating another door on the side of the building, but no one else was around and I felt like a trespasser. I skulked around back and eventually found the right door, promptly meeting a greeter who directed me to drop off my coat and to pick up a nametag. Thumbing through them to find mine, I saw a mixture of names, most of which I was unfamiliar with, and proceeded with proper identification down the hall to a lovely reception.

At this point, I should state that I used to have a problem with receptions. Whatever quality some people possess that allows them to slide in and out of conversations like butter is alien to me, and in feeling awkward, I made myself appear awkward. Yet, through a combination of friends and introductions, I somehow survived, and have since learned something about the art of social maneuvering. Having been informed of my table number by one of the many staff walking around with reception food, I went into a dining room with an incredible number of tables and chairs in close proximity and found my seat. My table had a family who knew Morty, as well as a professor and other students, and for the first time at Williams, I wasn’t in charge of my food. There was no salad bar or food line, and all I needed to concentrate on were the people at my table.

In a larger sense, Williams is the same way for academics. Only in college are my true responsibilities limited to eating, sleeping, reading, and going to class. Williams takes care of all of the logistics for us, and while I might occasionally bemoan the political apathy that I think stems from such isolation from the trials of normal life, there is great value in being able to have a purely academic experience. In the same way, this dinner conversation was a purely social experience, and hugely valuable in that respect. Meeting someone new at Williams is always strange because either you or them inevitably have something to do within the next 24 hours that hasn’t been done, but I was free of any obligation but my conversation, and in that, was rewarded with a better experience than would have been possible otherwise.

Morty eventually stood up and praised our guest; we soon had to go to the their lecture, but as I looked around at the chatting students and faculty, something occurred to me that I sent in my thank-you note: “The experience was unique to my time here at Williams – we are often so busyon campus that we miss the chance to talk about ideas and theories outside of an academic context, and this dinner provided that opportunity. It struck me as a middle ground between the modern college experience and the days when all the unaffiliated Williams men had to wear a full suit to dinner in Baxter Hall each evening.”

Dinner at Morty’s brought me back a little to that bygone era, and while I’m glad my sweat-stained t-shirt is appropriate attire at Driscoll or Greylock, dinner at Morty’s made my Williams experience a little more special, and made the snow trudging to come a little easier. I wish that everyone could have that sort of experience; plus, it’s neat to see everyone cleaned up.

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JA: Junior Anonymous [Eph Diary #4]

The Mountains

2009 almost went down in history as the year without a Mountain Day.  My Frosh were bereft, for a variety of reasons.  Some had been looking forward to it for months, while telling friends back home about how awesome/inspired/utterly-insane their school was for having such a tradition.  Some had been practicing a capella solos for weeks, while some were hard at work learning choral harmonies.  Some were looking forward to dominating the Wah tournament, while some worriedly signed releases for the “Xtreme Adventure Race” (well I was worried, at least).  Some anticipated reconvening with the mountains, while some had never seen the seasons change before.  Some just wanted a day to sleep in.

Listen up, David: my Frosh even learned “The Mountains” for the occasion.  Unprompted (sorry!) by me or my Co, they sat around in the common room one night and diligently rehearsed two verses of our alma mater song, accompanied by one of their entrymates on a keyboard.  (They’re also really good at “Sweet Caroline”, but that’s another story.)

So naturally, we all panicked when we saw the weather reports, and almost gave up hope when we got the first e-mail from Bill Wagner.  This e-mail, which was waiting in our inboxes one dreary Wednesday morning, basically said, “Hey kids, don’t count on having a Mountain Day…”

The odds were certainly against us. Read more

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JA: Junior Anonymous [Eph Diary #3]

The Purple Badge of Courage

I will never forget the first time it happened.  It was a Monday morning during JA training, the day that the First Generation students began arriving for their special orientation.  None of my kids had moved in yet, but I could sense the electric energy on campus nevertheless.  Everyone I saw, it seemed, could be a new freshman, could be one of the people that my fellow JAs had dreamt about and worried about for weeks.  My Co and I had stopped by Paresky that morning, and I was innocently checking my mail when I noticed two girls huddled together, whispering anxiously.  Suddenly one of them looked up and pointed at me.  “Hey,” she said to her companion, “Ask her… she’s a JA”.

For a split second I was startled, wondering what it was about my demeanor that had given me away.  And then I looked down and realized that I was finally wearing it- the iconic purple shirt.  With “Williams JA” emblazoned in gold on my chest (and, for what it’s worth, the name “Tiny Dancer” spelled out on my back), I finally looked the part of a REAL JA, even if I didn’t feel like one.

Donning the purple shirt that first morning had been exhilarating- the shirt is, after all, the ultimate symbol of a position I have wanted for so long- but it had also been completely terrifying.

I couldn’t hide anymore.

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JA: Junior Anonymous [Eph Diary #2]

This installment comes exactly two weeks later than planned, due to some cross-country travels and other such summertime excuses.  My apologies.  -TD

Going Home Again

I am home. 

For four whole days, crammed in between internships and travels and living life, I will exist once again within the boundaries of my hometown.  And I could not be more thrilled.

I still consider this place my “real” home, a fact that surprises me more than anyone.  When I left for college two years ago, I was one of those kids eager to leave the nest, confident that I was ready for a new adventure, a new life, a new home.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve found all that and more at Williams.  But at the same time, I find myself craving this place, my childhood home, in a way that I never imagined I would.  This town, where I lived exclusively for the first seventeen-point-nine years of my life, is the backdrop to all of my memories.  This house, where I lived for more than half my life, stores all the wonderful detritus of my formative years.  This place, which I know more intimately than anyplace else in the world, is where my family is.  And so this place is home. 

Still, I recognize the signs that my concept of “home” has changed since the day I left my own small town for the even smaller Williamstown.  When I return, a phenomenon that is sadly becoming increasingly infrequent, things are subtly different.  I no longer know the television channels.  My family joined a new swim club and made the switch to organic peanut butter.  The baby sister who I SWEAR was just in diapers is suddenly taller than I am.  I don’t even know whose toothbrush is whose around these parts.  I realized this morning (in a flash of horrifying clarity) that the orange brush, which at that moment was hard at work buffing my incisors, actually belongs to my little brother.  Barf.  At Williams, I have a pack of ten toothbrushes… and I always know which is which. Read more

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Model High School

Kesi Augustine ’12 writes about her experience studying at Bard High School Early College. Bard is an NYC high school recognized by President Obama in his speech to the NAACP last week for its innovative approach which challenges students to complete high school and earn a free associate’s degree or college credit in just four years:

Because my fellow students and I were able to earn this Associate’s degree from Bard College, many of us saved money by entering college as sophomores and juniors. For others, the degree represented an opportunity to double major, or to skip intro and survey courses often required by many four-year courses.

The most rewarding part of my experience at BHSEC, however, was more than just the Associate’s degree. The school introduced me to critical thinking and writing about my place in the world. Our teachers did not give us the recipe for performing well on state-wide tests and SATs, although we performed well in that respect, too. Rather, our small classes thrived on student energy in open seminar discussions and debates about course material. The challenge, as President Obama called for in his speech, never ended. No one could be successful in Bard by slumping in a seat.

The typical night of homework included musing over the implications of W.E.B. DuBois’ theory of double consciousness, calculating anti-derivatives, and writing about the similarities between Toni Morrison and William Faulkner. During our junior and senior years, the professors expected everyone to read works by writers like Sophocles, Plato, Dante, Darwin, Marx, and Kafka. Those texts were our repertoire–we discussed them together and wrote about their relevance during their time period as well as our own. After taking a contemporary architecture class, my friends and I would walk the streets of Manhattan and jokingly remark, “That is so post-modern.”

Not every student could learn this way. A few dropped out over the four years despite the supportive network of teachers and faculty available. However, those students did not cop out. BHSEC was emotionally demanding. Those students simply realized that their destiny was in their own hands, as Obama said, and that BHSEC’s accelerated method of learning, while it stimulates the mind, requires a sense of maturity some teenagers do not yet have while in high school.

If we are going to strive for the educational equality Obama calls for, every American student should have the education I did. I was more than prepared for success in “real” college, largely owed to what I learned at BHSEC. As a rising sophomore at Williams College, I frequently refer back to my seminar experience at Bard. During my freshman year at Williams, I was not perfect, yet I knew how to approach reading a novel a week, how to write a formal 10-page paper, and how to ask for help when I needed it. I had professors from high school I could ask for advice. I was confident in my ability to survive a difficult class. In contrast, few of my new college friends had this advantage. Students at Williams have often said, “In high school, I didn’t even have to think. Now, it’s all about thinking. I don’t know if I even trust myself to come up with something good.” I wonder how much better they would feel about their schoolwork–and their selves–if their high schools had encouraged independent thinking and critical analysis as Bard did.

BHSEC students come from the five boroughs of New York City, from both high and low income families. They are the children of immigrants from all over the world. They identify as Christians, Muslims, Jews and atheists. They are hipsters, athletes, artists, musicians, liberals, conservatives, and, most importantly, eager students. My experience at BHSEC taught me that our similarities outweigh our differences. A Muslim and a Christian can be best friends. A gay and a straight can both believe in finding true love. A Latino and an African American can joke with each other about the stereotypes that exist in their communities. My friend Naim taught me to live my Christian beliefs, no matter how hard they are to follow, as he fasted during Ramadan. My best group of girlfriends and I proudly called ourselves “the birds,” a play on the slang term “bird” for a minority girl who embodies the stereotypes of loudness and ignorance. We were from these same minority neighborhoods, yet attended one of the best schools in New York City.

While the nation still struggles with issues of race– we hear about segregated proms in Mississippi and about African American children turned away from a private swimming pools in Philadelphia–BHSEC students considered our differences a means of learning from one another. During my senior year at high school, an Asian peer told me that I “smell Black.” Her comment opened up a discussion between the two of us and a school counselor about approaching one another. She apologized and said, “I didn’t even know you would take it that way.” We became friends. Without a non-confrontational discussion, neither of us would have understood our intentions. To me, President Obama’s support for BHSEC means he also supports these same approaches to racial issues among adolescents.

Link to complete article

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Leaving Mississippi

Anna Morrison ’07 says goodbye to her last two years of teaching in the Mississippi Teacher Corps:

Leaving Mississippi (or more specifically, education in Mississippi) was definitely bittersweet – certainly “relief” might be the first word that comes to mind. I am relieved to be back in an educated state, in a place I love, surrounded by family and old friends. I am relieved that I will never again have to face the pressure, stress, and heartbreak of teaching in the Delta.

But a part of me is distinctly frustrated at the thought of leaving the classroom, or the realm of education. I’d like to work a way back into the education sphere in some way – if not through a career, then peripherally as a volunteer, a board member, a community leader, or even as a participant in a sort of wider conversation about education reform. That was the root of much of my Mississippi woes – I would rather reform the way education happens (to avoid the huge gap in achievement for low-income students) than try to work within a broken system (as a teacher to those low-income students).

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JA: Junior Anonymous [Eph Diary #1]

Frosh 2.0 

I feel like an expectant mother.  This psychosis is fueled, I’m sure, by my admitted overindulgence in trashy television, namely MTV’s new trainwreck hit show 16 and Pregnant (EDIT: It has come to my attention that the Lifetime Original Movie is actually called 15 and Pregnant.  My apologies).  This summer I am living in a city where I know approximately seven people, give or take one US President (who I only know in my dreams).  Do you really blame me for drowning my loneliness in reality TV? 

On some level, I feel like I can relate to those wayward teens, waddling around on aching feet well past their due dates.  Babies don’t come according to schedule, and apparently neither do Williams Frosh Lists.  The electronic versions of the entry rosters were supposed to arrive, all Pandora’s-box-like, via e-mail on Friday.  I spent the day like it was Christmas morning, refreshing my webmail account with the same fervor I once applied to squealing at my parents to Please Please Please Let us open the presents now! But by the time evening rolled around, the lists hadn’t come.  They still haven’t come.  I’m overdue. Read more

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JA: Junior Anonymous

Coming soon to an EphBlog near you!

Are you a prefrosh, wondering what exactly a “Junior Advisor” is, and why exactly they’re so cool?

…Perhaps a current student, curious about the real world behind the iconic purple shirt?

…An alum, eager to relive your glory days (“When I was a JA…”)?

…Or maybe an Elton John fanatic, searching for someone to hold you just a little closer?

Well, you’ve come to the right place! Except for you, Mr. Piano-Rock-Connoisseur.  I’m not that kind of Tiny Dancer.

Starting next week, I will be recording my life as a brand-spankin’-new JA on our very own EphBlog.  In installments to be posted on the second Monday of every month, I will share with the world the ups and downs of a year spent living in the very same entry I inhabited as a First Year.  And who am I?

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Spring Break in Spartanburg

Spartanburg Group Shot

I had the luck to participate in one of this year’s alternative Spring Break trips. A group of 12 Ephs traveled to South Carolina to work on partially built homes through Habitat for Humanity’s “collegiate challenge.” In addition, I had the opportunity to help show my fellow Ephs Southern cuisine and culture. During the five days we worked on the sites, we:

  • Removed the roof and gutters of a four bedroom home.
  • Painted that home’s deck and installed drywall.
  • Installed a new roof and additional siding.
  • Put in flooring and cabinetry of a three bedroom home.
  • Installed baseboards, closet shelving, and window treatments.

The homes we helped to build and equip will be sold for a downpayment of “sweat equity” given in labor to a habitat home, and a 0% interest mortgage, and we enjoyed working with power tools, other volunteers, and habitat employees. It was a lovely week; you can see more photos at junior George Carstocea 10’s photo site. Some samples: peeking over the new roof, and fun after work.

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Eph Teaching Diary: Life in a Low-Income District

Because Williams does not have an Education major, a graduating Eph who wishes to teach has three main options.

1) Enroll in a graduate school of Education

2) Teach at a private or parochial school (they are not required to hire licensed teachers)

3) Enroll in an alternative-route certification program, such as Teach for America, Mississippi Teacher Corps, New York City Teaching Fellows, Chicago Teaching Fellows, and many, many others.

I am not exactly sure of the typical breakdown between these three options for Williams grads who go in to teaching. My (very rough) guess is that around 10 members of the class of ’07 ended up in #2, and another 10-20 in #3. I only know of a few people who were considering #1. (Note: Plenty of students also go abroad to teach – the phantom 4th option on my list). Perhaps someone more familiar with these numbers (the OCC must know!) could chime in and correct me…

I hope to get few writers from each of these categories, but I’m starting these entries with participants from alternative-route (meaning: not through traditional graduate school) programs. Obviously, as a current member of one these programs, its the viewpoint most familiar to me. But I am also starting here because it is the category that has been receiving the most attention recently – news articles, columns, books, and lots of good buzz about how a big chunk of our generation has chosen to devote two years of our lives to improving our nation’s educational system.

Most aspiring teachers who choose that third category will find themselves in low-income school districts that have a high rate of teacher turnover — and a whole slew of problems that contribute to it.

More below the jump…

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Eph Diaries: The Eph Teachers

This is the first post in a summer-long series of “Eph Diaries” about the experiences of recent Williams grads who have chosen to pursue teaching after graduation. As an ’07 graduate, I just completed my first year in the Mississippi Teacher Corps, a two-year, alternative-route program (similar to Teach for America), which trains and places recent graduates in the critical-needs school districts of Mississippi. I’ll be cross-posting some of my own blog entries from this year, as well as thoughts from other young Ephs in the classrooms. Hopefully our stories, observations, and ideas will provide inspiration for other Williams students who are contemplating a career in education.

Perhaps it seems odd that these entries appear over the summer — school is out, we are not necessarily teaching, and our blog entries will often be outdated. I think, in fact, it is the perfect time for these entries – a time in which students and teachers alike can reflect on the year, on what has (or has not) been accomplished, and on what might be achieved when September rolls around again. To those undergraduates adrift in a sea of career opportunities, summer is the perfect time to begin thinking about the future -and hopefully you might gain some insight from those of us newly “on the job”.

So, without further ado, I will give you an entry of mine, recently written, which was required by my program: a reflection of my first year of teaching. This year, I taught Junior and Senior English at a large high school in the Mississippi Delta, one of the poorest (if not the poorest) regions in the country. My attempt to reflect on the year is as follows:

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Eph Diary: The Politics of Katrina

This entry will deviate a bit from a strict definition of “all things Eph,” but when David Kane wants Williams pictures, he gets pictures; when he wants an Eph Diary, he gets an Eph Diary, and when he wants more information about the political economy of the situation, he will most certainly get as much. While sorting books, we met the AmeriCorps team that is working in New Orleans (more on AmeriCorps below), so I am now a bit more qualified to talk about the politics of that area.

Hands On Gulf Coast — formerly run by Hands On USA and now by Hands On Network — has a core mission, which is to rebuild the community by rebuilding houses so that people can move back into them. You have doubtless heard of the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans, the poorest and most flooded area of the city. Hands On does not rebuild houses in the Lower Ninth Ward, because there is some probability that the whole area will be demolished in the end anyway, and my guess is that any other volunteer organizations in the city have the same policy. Thus, no one can move back into houses in the Lower Ninth Ward (unless they can pay for a contractor) and so there is no community there for people to return to, which is a bit of a self-propogating cycle (the government says the area might not be rebuilt, so the houses aren’t rebuilt, so there’s no community there, so there’s no reason to rebuild the area, etc.).

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Eph Diary: More Spring Break with Katrina!

Diana and a few other Williams students are off in Northern Louisiana sorting donated books and hanging out by a beautiful lake, but the rest of us are still here working in Biloxi. Today a group of us got to work with the Salvation army, preparing and serving lunches to 350 volunteers. We spiced up their lunch experience with some general silliness and dancing in the lunch line. It was great to meet some other volunteers and see how many people are donating their time to help out here on the gulf coast. We also absolutely loved working with the Salvation Army people, who are helping coordinate large-scale resource distribution in this area…we basically fell in love with them.
Some other members of the Williams team worked on the “Tree Crew,” which actually meant moving a lot of debris, as well as cutting up and removing fallen trees from people’s yards. They were awed by tree climbing and roping mastery of their crazy leaders and are now skilled in the art of avoiding these chainsaw-bearing hippies.
Also…drumroll…the Salvation Army had more bananas than they knew what to do with (we’re talking cases and cases), so we dropped some off at a local church; the rest we brought back and turned into scrumptious banana bread to feed the hungry masses at Hands On.
All in all, it was a wildly fabulous and wildly productive day.
–Katie Craig, Liz Gleason, Kim Taylor, Julia Sendor, Zoe Fonseca, and Whitney Leonard (all class of ’08)

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Eph Diary: Spring break excitement on the Gulf Coast

Today I did surveying again, and this time we actually got to survey people, rather than just advertising a meeting! The survey is 52 questions with demographic information, and then questions on what the person liked about Biloxi before the hurricane, what they think the highest priorities should be after the hurricane, and what they think the most pressing issues for the city are. The idea of the surveys is that the Coordination and Relief Center will compile the information about what the citizens of East Biloxi want and give that information to the mayor and city planners, so that they will either have to take that information into account when they plan what will happen next, or they will have to knowingly go against what the city’s people want.

We first went to two trailer parks, which are not trailer parks in the traditional sense, but just fields full of FEMA trailers that have sprung up after the hurricane. This was to survey people who had lived in East Biloxi before the hurricane, but who were living elsewhere after the storm. Most of the people were not home — who would stay in a tiny trailer on a Saturday if they didn’t have to — but I surveyed one woman who was home. She was 20 and had two small children, both about two or three years old, and they were all home watching Saturday morning cartoons. She was African-American, and worked cleaning casinos before the hurricane. I realized later that I’m 20, too, so we were the same age, but living very different lives.

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Eph Diary: Spring Break with Katrina, end of the first week

Today a group of 10 Williams students went to the local elementary school to do “tutoring.” Unfortunately for us, the most pressing need at the school today was sorting books, so we didn’t get to talk to individual children or do any tutoring. However, I love sorting, and I love books, so it was all right. This school had a lot of its books destroyed in the hurricane, which was terrible, and then it got a huge number of donated books from everywhere in the country, which is also overwhelming.

We went through perhaps 20 boxes of books, sorting them by type (picture book or chapter book) and genre (part of a series, has “God” in the title, Disney or television character books) and boxing them up again. The good thing is that the books are very well sorted. The bad thing is that we didn’t really accomplish anything tangible; we just moved books around.

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